Today! Because in my last case, I had to throw my own brother out of an airplane –
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)
Directed by Carl Reiner
Starring Steve Martin (x2), Rachel Ward, Carl Reiner, Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, Ava Gardner, Burt Lancaster, Cary Grant (x3), Ingrid Bergman (x3), Veronica Lake (x2), Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Fred MacMurray (x2), James Cagney, Joan Crawford, Charles Laughton, Vincent Price, George Gaynes, William Conrad, Edmond O’Brien
The great pairing of Carl Reiner and Steve Martin produced this noir spoof, intercutting Martin’s detective Rigby Reardon with actors/characters from hard boiled crime films of the ’40s for a new mystery adventure. Almost twenty different films compose Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, including Suspicion, Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, The Big Sleep, and #370 Notorious, providing plenty of long-dead screen legends new comic opportunities, and new chances at joining the prestigious Two- and Three-Timers club!
Martin and Ward, as the femme fatale Juliet, make a great straight-faced team, and do all the heavy lifting in the movie, with the only exception maybe being the heroic work of career comedy film editor Bud Molin. The worry about this movie on paper (in retrospect) is how can any of this footage actually be matched up, using 1982 technology? Sure, at the time, it must’ve seemed like this was a possibility, but now – can you imagine hearing about this concept for a movie from 35+ years ago and thinking it would work? Is this the first you’re hearing about this movie, and you’re in some manner of disbelief right now? Well, rest assured, it totally pays off. The movie doesn’t do a lot of complicated inserting of characters into old footage – à la Forrest Gump – instead filming new scenes that function against the existing footage. A lot of it is funny phone conversations, but they’re almost equally effective with same room sequences. And Martin has the patter down, so that the mismatched conversations actually sound like they’re happening – not just in context but in style and rhythm. It’s a hell of an achievement.
But the technological impressiveness of the film shouldn’t really be the focus, as cool as it is – this movie is across the board hilarious. Reiner and Martin really had a great run in the late ’70s/early ’80s, teaming for four solid films in six years – The Jerk, The Man With Two Brains, All of Me, and this – before going their separate ways. The nine-time Emmy winning Reiner rarely gets the credit he deserves for his directing – he might not have been his 2000 Year Old Man co-star Mel Brooks behind the camera, but he was a terrifically effective helmer of comedies nonetheless.
Zero awards! Nothing! Not even for Film Editing! Absurd! Let’s at least show some appreciation for Best Java Recipe, a much discussed specialty of Rigby’s. This movie also inducts Martin into the Two-Timers club, after his great turn in #373’s Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, alongside Fred MacMurray and Veronica Lake (in what would qualify for both as their last screen performances), after their respective roles in #382 True Confession and #384 Sullivan’s Travels. But we’ve also got a pair of Three-Timers joining that upper tier of the dais today, Notorious co-stars and respective players in #316 North by Northwest and #374 Murder on the Orient Express, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman! Doubling up with Hitchcock work here on the list, with reprised footage from the 1946 spy thriller!